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Christmas Without Conflict

The song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”  But for many families, this is the most chaotic, conflict-filled and crisis-inducing time of year.  This wonderful holiday, when we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, is often anything but peaceful in homes with teenagers.  The good news is that even with the extra stress and pressure that comes along with the holiday season, you can have Christmas without the conflict.  (Yes, it is the season of miracles!)

The key to having a Christmas without conflict is to not forsake good parenting skills.  You may be taking off several days from work for the holiday, but you can’t take off from being a parent.  So don’t slack off.  Focus on maintaining a solid relationship while still honoring your rules, even if your teen calls you “Scrooge” or “Grinch.”

The Power of “Nevertheless”

When a conflict begins, respond by agreeing with your teen in some way, while holding your ground in regard to enforcing the rules. Let me share with you one of my favorite words when it comes to managing conflict; the word is, “nevertheless.”

Sweetheart, I’m aware your friends think this is a great movie, and they may be right, nevertheless… our rule for that is that we don’t go to R-rated movies.

Darlin’, you may have merit for being upset and I’d probably be upset too, nevertheless… our rule is that everyone in our family is required to be respectful of one another, even when we’re angry.

Son, I’m sorry you don’t like the new curfew rule. I didn’t either when I was a teen, nevertheless… our rule is that curfew is midnight.

Handling Christmas conflicts in a more intentional way sends your child the message – “Honey, I love you and I understand why you feel the way you do, but we’re still going to live according to our household rules. If you choose to disregard the rules, consequences will follow.”

Remind Them of Consequences

Rather than leaving your child to wonder about the consequences, those should have been determined and communicated to them in advance.  How else can the teen properly choose?  They can’t.  They need to be able to say to their peers, “If I do that, I’ll lose my car for a month,” or, “If I’m late now, my curfew will be even earlier for a month.”

But you’d be surprised at the number of ways parents avoid enforcing consequences.  Make it a rule for yourself, if nothing else — the consequences I’ve communicated to my teen will be enforced, one way or another.  Get some outside help with structuring the consequences if you need it.  And, always present a united front with your spouse.  Beyond the normal rules and boundaries for curfew and chores and such, there should also be some rules you may not have thought about.

For instance:

  1. We MUST Spend Time Together

Your relationship with your teen needs time to develop in a way that moves beyond entertaining them or simply providing for them.  Christmas is a great time for building memories and doing things together.  But if your kids are spending the entire holiday season at parties, games and functions with their friends, the family relationship will suffer.

Get a calendar and determine in advance what days and times the family will be doing certain activities.  This allows your teens the freedom to “fill in” the schedule with other things around the family rather than competing with it.  And giving them the freedom to make their choices for the open dates lets them feel an important level of control over their own lives.

  1. Everyone Listens

Some of the best advice I give dads and moms is encompassed in a simple mandate: Keep Quiet!  Instead of always nagging, correcting, cajoling, or critiquing – just be quiet.  Look for opportunities to lead into a discussion where you can ask your teen to explain their point of view, their solution to a problem, or how they arrived at a conclusion, then allow them to talk. Don’t try to correct their thinking – just let them talk.

Some parents just need to zip it.  They need to turn the table and allow their teen to ask questions for a change.  Teenagers today need to know someone will truly listen to them and not judge them for what is said.  So sharpen your own listening habits, and your teens may grow as well.  The point is, make your home a place where everyone listens and enforce it as a rule.

  1. Lighten Up!  That’s an Order!

Some families need to learn to laugh together as much or more than anything else.  Christmas can be a great time for fun.  Making cookies or gingerbread houses isn’t just for little kids.  Watching Dad’s elaborate construction fall apart or Mom “decorating” by putting frosting on his nose are things that open doors to more than just immediate laughter… they create an atmosphere your kids will want to be in.

Parents today take themselves and their teens way too seriously, at times.  Let your kids see just how goofy you can really become, and make it a goal to make someone in your family laugh every day. Bring some fun things into your home, be impetuous, and smile a little more.

A Relationship That Doesn’t Stop

Your teen needs the kind of relationship that doesn’t stop even if they overstep the boundaries (and there will be times when they do).  At all times, keep reminding your teen: “There’s nothing you can do to make me love you less, and nothing you can do to make me love you more. In other words, to do something wrong won’t end our relationship. I will love you just the same regardless of your actions, but that doesn’t mean I won’t enforce consequences for breaking the rules.”

What your child wants more than anything else is to have more freedom, while also having a solid relationship with you. If you plan the events of the Christmas season, they will be able to experience the benefits of freedom without destroying the beauty of “peace on earth.”

May your home be filled with peace, laughter, joy and love. Merry Christmas!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.   Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


Helping Your Child Own Their Spiritual Journey

Statistics show that 85% of kids today are leaving the church upon graduation from high school.  When I was a teen, I wasn’t brave enough to say: “I don’t wanna to go to church today.”  For today’s teen, leaving the church is normal – but not necessarily helpful.  Teens today are exposed to more opportunities and options in the kind of church they want to go to.  And when they begin to put into practice their developing desire for independence, you might need to be prepared.

Building Independence

Every parent wants their child to grow up and become a successful adult; I know these parents.  They’re great parents.  But as our kids grow up, they begin to exercise more independence.  How we respond to them, especially in this area of going to church, will affect their decisions.  As we raise our kids, there are different signs and little signals that show us that our goal of helping our children become independent, is working – this is one of them.  Even if you don’t like the idea of your child not going to church with you, it’s a good sign.  It shows us that they are starting to think on their own instead of just following us.

Parents, I understand that we’re dealing with an issue that’s very important to you.  The real issue is faith in God, not going to church.  I so often hear parents say “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” and then in the next breath say to their kids “as long as you live under my roof, you will live by my rules.”  Does this sound familiar?  To tell you the truth, it unnerves me a bit.  You need to sit back and evaluate your values, beliefs and goals for your child.  If what you are telling them is contradictory, then you are going to be making your uphill battle even harder.

The Bigger Picture

Ultimately, you are helping your child form a belief system – not just a habit of going to church.  So, if your child can choose the church that he wants to go to, then you can help him achieve your own goals for your children.  Your goals may be for his spiritual training; if he can reach those goals on his own, it may be better to have him go to a different church that meets his interests, while keeping him connected to the church.

Let’s keep the kids involved in something.  I may lose the opportunity to sit in church with them, but I may gain something far greater in having them part of something that will help them throughout their life.  The bigger issue is their spiritual health.

Responding When Your Child Chooses Something Else

I would encourage you to pre-meditate your response when your teen tells you that he doesn’t want to go to church.  Are you going to allow your child to make choices in his life?  Even if you know they won’t make the choice that you want?  Just because you like the idea of your family doing things together, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for your teen to desire something different.  This is a season of independence you need to embrace in order to hold onto the bigger picture – faith in God.

As a parent, I want to help my child make good choices.  If they make choices that you don’t agree with, you may need to reign in the choice they are allowed to make.  Allow them the opportunity to make a choice, but provide for their training as well.  This way, instead of choosing not to go to church at the age of 13 or 14, you give your child the option to go to one of two or three churches.  They keep the ability to make a choice and have control over their lives, and you still help guide them toward faith.

At some point, your teen may reject any choice you give them.  But teens send out signals in advance of coming to this point, so you need to pick up on these clues.  If they’re falling asleep, writing notes during church services, or are more interested in eating after church than being part of church, you may need to address their actions.  If you see these things coming up, pull your teen aside and talk to him about it.  The issue could be something other than the church itself.  By talking to your child, you can help determine the motivation behind the behavior.

Make sure that your plan gives some opportunity and flexibility that reaches your goals for them.  As they get older, if your child chooses not to go to any church at all, keep your relationship with them.  Don’t shame them in the process or make sarcastic remarks.  These things will show your child that you are disappointed in them; instead, let God work it out and bring them back in His time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program. Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.

 


Connecting With Your Teen

Lately I was in a conversation where plenty of information was transferred, lips were moving, my ears were working, but there really wasn’t a connection. I asked a young teenager in our Heartlight residential counseling program how she was doing. It was a simple question in passing, and I expected a simple answer. Instead, the young lady proceeded to tell me everything about herself, everything she ever did, everything she ever accomplished, everywhere she had ever traveled and every talent she had.

She reported how she could play the guitar, the cello, the violin, the piano, the harp, the drums, the trumpet, the bass guitar, the flute, the clarinet, and the tuba. She told me about all the things she likes to do, and all the things she doesn’t like to do. She talked about how she is a swimmer, a gymnast, a dancer, an equestrian, a pianist, a volleyball queen, and a lacrosse player.

She “shared” how she was homecoming queen, the “most likely to succeed” in her class, winter ball queen, spring fling queen, and strawberry festival queen. She told me what she wanted to be, and what she did not want to be. She told me all her hopes and dreams, and all her disappointments and failures in one breathless dissertation.

You get the picture, right? All I did was ask her how she was doing! She responded like a chatty doll on steroids, an energy bunny with a mouth instead of a drum — one that kept on going, never stopping to hear a response or to ask me anything.

I quickly realized that this one-way “conversation” was a desperate cover-up of what was going on inside her. She wanted me to know she is worth something and she plead her case based on her accomplishments.

I was saddened because I could see that this young lady really wanted to participate in a meaningful discussion, but the more she talked about herself and her achievements, the more she hid what was really on her mind. She did well at talking, but failed completely at connecting and communicating. It was like a one-way sales pitch without the closer.

When she took a breath, I finally got a chance to wedge in a better question that might open a real dialogue. Her demeanor completely changed when I asked, “What’s been the most difficult thing that has happened in your life?” Her chattering stopped, her eyes whelped up with tears, and she replied, “When my Dad died and I felt all alone.”

Suddenly, there was silence. I stood looking at her for a few seconds and instead of trying to come up with the right words to say, I just gave her a hug. She wanted to talk, but I encouraged her, “Hey, hey, hey… you don’t need to say anything.” Her mother, also standing by, began to talk in an attempt to ease the awkwardness of the situation. I quietly motioned and said to her mom,”Shhhhh… we’re communicating.”

Finally, a real connection was made. Finally, we could talk about the most important things in her life — her real self, not just her accomplishments.

The point is this… talking with or to your teenager does not necessarily mean you’re communicating. In fact, too much talk can actually cover up what really needs to be said. Sometimes the most important connection with your teen can happen with very few words.

When was the last time your teenage son or daughter asked your opinion? Does your child listen to you and discuss life’s significant issues and difficulties? In other words, do you have meaningful, two-way dialogues, or does most of your communication tend to be one way?

I’ve found that the best way to build better communication with your teen is to find an activity you can participate in together and do so with all your might. Then, talk less yourself, so you don’t get in the way of what they may have to say.

Conversation naturally comes out of having fun together.  This is especially true for boys, who seem to process life while they are involved in an activity of some sort.  Talking less during these activity times may be difficult for you, but when it comes to getting teenagers to open up, you can’t shut up too much.

Our Heartlight counselors sometimes shoot pool, go for a walk, or play video games with kids during their counseling sessions, and that is when the kids really open up. The application for your home is plain enough. If hunting is your child’s interest, go hunting. If riding horses is considered fun, then go horseback riding together. You may not learn how to skateboard, but you can build a ramp and run the video camera while your child does his thing.

The point is, if you participate in some activity with your teen that he or she really enjoys, you’ll find more opportunities to communicate while you are doing it together.

By the way, be sure to prevent distractions during your activity time. Don’t bring other friends or siblings along. Don’t allow your teen to bring a radio or iPod, and be sure to shut off your Blackberry. And by all means, don’t announce the activity is for the purpose of having a talk. Just leave the space open and available while you are with them, to see what happens next. Then zip your lip, be quiet, and practice listening.

Your silence allows your child to fill the conversational void. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but that’s the point.  In their discomfort, they’ll do the talking and say things they may not have said otherwise.  So, if you quit talking, you will begin to gain some ground in connecting your child’s thinking.

Your teen may never have a long discussion with you; it may always be the instant message version. But listen carefully, because what is said will probably be short and you’ll have to read between the lines and ask a few quick questions to clarify what they meant.  This signifies that you are really listening and wanting to understand them.

What you say or how much you say is not even really that important. The important thing is to build an atmosphere where your child feels safe to share their thoughts and feelings.

The times a teenager will really listen to you are few and far between. But they’ll listen you more if you take time to listen to them.

Building good communication with your teen can start by participating in an activity your teen enjoys doing, and then using that time as an opportunity for you to listen, not talk.

Are you looking for ways to really connect with your teen’s deepest hopes, concerns and fears; or is the mode of communication between the two of you an endless stream of superficial words? I encourage you to stop the chatter, look for issues that need to dealt with under the surface, and connect with your teen in a truly meaningful way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas.  He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and four grandkids.  He lives in Longview, Texas, with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, two llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy.

His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with more than 2,800 teens has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents. You can find out more about Heartlight at HeartlightMinistries.orgYou can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.

Mark is also the host of the radio program Parenting Today’s Teen; heard on over 1,600 radio outlets nationwide. Visit ParentingTodaysTeens.org where you’ll find more parenting resources and find a station near you that carries the daily 60-second features or the 30-minute weekend program.  Download the Parenting Today’s Teens App for Apple or Android, it’s a great way to listen on your schedule.